Well, when I was four my mother had me get up in front of my whole church and sing a little song. It was a song I knew by heart and loved singing it at home for close family and friends. When I got up on the stage with the microphone in front of my face and peered out over the audience just staring at me...I completely forgot the whole thing.
My mom had to help me by singing with me, and I was MORTIFIED.
I'm sure everyone would have thought I was adorable whatever the heck I did up there...but as a very sensitive child with perfectionist tendencies (even at the age of FOUR...)...I was beside myself with shame that I'd screwed it up and let everyone down.
If you are someone who gets really nervous when performing in front of others, you are not alone! Most accomplished musicians with whom I have conversed struggle with this on some level. It's good to remember that part of your nervousness is because you are so passionate about your craft and are quite concerned that the audience enjoys the experience with you.
Scenarios That Can Trigger Performance Anxiety
- Performing in an unfamiliar environment
- Being under-prepared
- Negative self-talk--especially after having a small slip in the music
- Having too much caffeine in your system
- Being too hot or too cold
- Playing for people who intimidate you
- Being uncomfortable in your clothing or shoes
On my journey to cope with performance anxiety I have learned a few things that have really helped me overcome the more severe bouts of nervousness. If you have a performance or audition coming up, try following these five simple steps to set you up for success!
Preparing for Performance in Five Easy Steps
- As your performance day nears--about two weeks before--incorporate a complete run-through of the audition rep at the end of each practice session. Force yourself to play through all of the music without stopping—no matter how many mistakes you make. This builds the resiliency you need to power through the sand pit of negative self-talk. Recording this is a great way to add a little extra pressure and to hear things you may be missing while you are playing.
- Once step one feels more comfortable (after a couple of days), add in mini physical work-outs before you begin the run-through. Pick any short activity that bumps your heart-rate up and gets your adrenaline flowing fast in less than a minute. I do push-ups. Not only do they raise my heart-rate, but I also get that heavy feeling in my arms that I normally get when I’m playing with nerves. After you finish the activity, spend at least sixty seconds slowing down your breath and calmly focusing your mind on the music. In his book, Audition Success, Don Greene suggests having a word to focus on that brings you in the correct mood of the piece you are preparing to play.
- A week before the performance keep doing the same routine--only do it at random times during the day (or night). Doing so will train your body and mind to rise to the occasion no matter what is going on externally. I once had a teacher who set her alarm for 4am so she could get up and practice her performance rep. Though extreme, I bet it is super effective. Also helpful—rehearse your underwear and really uncomfortable shoes—it sounds ridiculous, but it really works! I suggest closing the curtains before doing so, however. Your neighbors will thank you. :)
- A couple days before, begin visualizing your best performance. Go through each aspect from walking into the warm-up room to walking out of the audition. Focus mainly on what you are feeling and not so much on analytical/perfectionist thoughts. A former teacher of mine once told me she did this at night before falling asleep, which I think is a great idea.
- On performance day, try to keep your life as normal as possible. The more you vary your routine the more nervous you will be! Remind yourself that you have already done all of the work to make the performance your absolute best, and as athletes say, trust your training! Eat well, sleep well, and have plenty of things (a good book or another non-music hobby) to distract yourself from worry. Tell yourself that performing will be fun and focus on the parts of the performance you are excited to play!
Was this article helpful? Do you have other ways to combat performance anxiety? I'd love to hear about your journey--please comment below or contact me if you have any specific questions!